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The Hong Kong mum who is revolutionising the way parents search for education providers

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Jennifer Chin’s website whizpa.com could help thousands of parents and kids in Sai Ying Pun and Kennedy Town

Parents: are you looking for a good school, education centre or learning activity for your child but haven’t got a clue where to start searching? One entrepreneurial Hongkonger says she’s here to help. Jennifer Chin is preparing to launch a new website that aims to help mums, dads and carers who literally don’t know where to start looking. She’s the brains behind whizpa.com, a website that consolidates all the schools, education centres and activities in the city on one platform, thus making it easier to search, compare and be aware of every learning service and compare them. Chin says she hopes to ‘revolutionise the way parents search for activities for their children’.

Chin’s new website covers the whole of Hong Kong and already includes a database of 106 listings in theDesk’s neighbourhood districts, Sai Ying Pun and Kennedy Town. The 42-year-old, who grew up in Malaysia but has lived in Hong Kong since 2000, just launched a crowdfunding campaign for the website on International Women’s Day, March 8, with Next Chapter, a local crowdfunder that focuses on women entrepreneurs. She says that Sai Ying Pun and Kennedy Town are becoming ‘more affluent’ with ‘more and more young families moving there due to the lower rents’, so, as a result, ‘education providers are also moving there for lower rents and for the rising population of children attending schools and educational activities in the area’. Thus, she says, whizpa.com, which is expected to launch in May and boasts a name that comes from the ‘whispers of mums’, can ease their stress and help them actually become part of her online community when recommending and reviewing providers.

Chin is the mother of three children, aged 13, 12 and one-and-a-half. She worked in investment banking between 1998 and 2010, leaving to spend more time with her kids. During this period, she started Mandarin Town, a children’s ‘gym’ where Putonghua is taught at the same time, with two partners for a couple of years before moving on to education publishing at Mandarin Matrix, a company that specialises in Putonghua print and online materials for youngsters. Now her full-time job is getting whizpa.com off the ground. Chin says she came up with idea after finding the process of searching for education providers in the city really difficult. So she’s been working on the website for a few months now and meets with us to tell us in Sai Ying Pun and Kennedy Town just how she hopes to ‘revolutionise’ the system…

Hi Jennifer! So, tell us about whizpa.com…
This website will be Hong Kong’s first education review website which allows parents to review, rate and rank all the different local education providers. The whizpa.com platform aims to help parents search and compare education providers, as well as purchase activity classes for their children in a way that’s simple and isn’t stressful. In Hong Kong, there are thousands of private learning centres, consultants, schools and kid-related providers. As a parent myself, I find that it’s difficult to compare the same service or product offered by different providers, let alone know all the providers out there.

Well, how do parents search for providers at the moment?
I did a recent survey and found that close to 90 percent of parents in Hong Kong rely on word of mouth or recommendations from other parents when finding activities for their children. About 75 percent find that it’s relatively difficult to compare the same service or product offered by the many education providers. Moreover, when it comes to purchasing classes, education is a sector where payments are still done through the traditional way of cheques, cash or bank transfers. We have people shopping for products and services online these days but not in the education sector for children. With whizpa.com, we aim to provide a solution to these issues.

When does the website launch?
We are developing and building it now. We hope to launch at the end of May. Our target audience will be parents and education providers in Hong Kong. Our platform will try to cover as many education providers as possible in the city. We will also target parents all over the city, including new parents, soon-to-be parents, expats, families, teachers and even students who can review and rate their experiences.

Whizpa – ‘Hong Kong’s first education review website’

You have, so far, a database of 106 listings in SYP and K-Town. That seems like a lot…
We’re finding there’s a high concentration of education and learning centres in areas that offer lower rents and at the same time have a high concentration of families with children. Areas like Sai Ying Pun and Kennedy Town have big numbers of providers. A few factors for this include the lower rents for these usually high-overhead businesses, the fact that providers hope to capture as many students as possible in the location closest to them and the fact that parents often want their children to attend classes or activities that aren’t too far from their home.

What sort of centres do you find in SYP and K-Town?
Education providers in these areas include those focusing on academia, tutoring, arts, languages, sports, lifestyle, technology, science and music. There are tuition and prep centres, arts centres which cover activities like drawing, ballet and drama classes, language centres mostly for Putonghua and English and music centres with piano, drum and violin classes, for instance.

What’s the importance of such centres to parents, families and children in 2017?
Education is a huge industry in Hong Kong, with parents wanting to give their children the best education in preparing them for the future. Working parents are keen to have kids out of the house learning and doing sports instead of sitting at home. Also, with an ever-growing population of kids going abroad to further their studies, the competition for a spot in a school in the USA, UK and Europe, as well as locally, has become tougher and more competitive. Parents are keen to find ways to help their children get into top schools. Hence, a booming industry in education, education consultancy and extra-curricular activities. From our survey, kids in Hong Kong are very busy, with about 50 percent of kids doing at least one to three different activities a week, 42 percent doing four to six activities and the rest taking part in more than seven.

What do the providers actually do?
Each provider has their own specialty. Lessons are usually charged by the hour. Providers aim to teach kids skills and knowledge which they may not get from school or at home. For example, a parent purchases piano lessons for their child in the hope that their child can play the piano well when she grows up.

What challenges have you faced in setting up this website?
There are many challenges when you build a brand from scratch and whizpa.com is a brand new website which I hope will revolutionise the way parents search for schools and activities for their children. My top challenges include a) funding for website and content development, b) brand building through marketing campaigns and c) hiring good and capable staff!

Working with the right web developer must be important, right?
It is indeed. And so is setting and meeting deadlines with the website. Currently, I’m funding this project myself. I just launched a crowdfunding campaign on Next Chapter on March 8. It’s a women’s entrepreneur-focused platform. It’s a good way to both raise money to develop my project and to create awareness of the brand in its pre-launch of website. It also helps validate the idea and need for this platform in Hong Kong. The HK government’s technology initiatives are very limited and cumbersome as they require a lot of administrative work and they tend to look at businesses which are already profitable rather than startups. There’s a certain element of ‘play it safe’ from government departments…

Where did the idea originally come from?
After having gone through the past decade finding different activities and schools for my two older children, who are 13 and 12 years old now, I now have to go through the same experience again with my youngest one who is just one-and-a-half. There are so many education providers in Hong Kong. Finding a school or activity that suits my children in terms of quality of teachers, curriculum, location, price and types of activities just isn’t easy. Each child is different. It’s hard to compare all the providers in Hong Kong offering the same service, let alone know all of them. So my friends and I are constantly asking around for recommendations or referrals from one another. So I thought to myself: what if there was a platform similar to TripAdvisor that allows us parents to review, rate and rank all the different education providers in Hong Kong? Also, would it be convenient if we can purchase or renew classes from providers online? The rest is history…

How does Hong Kong compare to other countries when it comes to education?
Hong Kong’s education system is very rigorous and competitive. I feel that the pressures on the children growing up in this city’s education system are much more than children who grow up in other countries. This is because the education system is very demanding with constant tests and public examinations in school and increasingly high expectations placed on children as young as preschoolers. Parents want the best for their children and hence education has become such a booming industry in Hong Kong.

What is your long-term aim with the website?
I hope whizpa.com will take off and become a useful tool for parents in Hong Kong when finding educational providers for their children. Basically, it aims to bring parents, students and education providers together all on one platform. In short, I hope whizpa.com is a success!

Check out the homepage at whizpa.com that has details of how you can support Jennifer Chin’s crowdfunding campaign.

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